The Cleaners Part 30: Cold Calling

“Your lunch will be ready in fifteen minutes, Diane,” announced Tony Feeder from the kitchen.
“Thanks, Tony,” I shouted without looking up from my computer. William was in the living room wiping down my mantle again. The Caretaker was standing in the corner in sleep mode. “Zzz…” said his screen, typing itself in and disappearing over and over again. He would respond to any indication that I was in danger or otherwise needed him, but otherwise he was inert. Since it was a Thursday, my Gardener would be outside tending the flowers and trimming the hedges as well.

I went over my list again. First and foremost, there was the issue of Ella and the remaining terrorists. That was the easy part. Christine Gently wouldn’t take much convincing to agree that whatever these people planned would be good neither for humanity nor for her beloved children. I knew simply capturing the terrorists wasn’t enough, though. We needed her help to save people from starving to death when their skills were no longer necessary. I couldn’t stand another Henry Whicker on my conscience – oh, that was a good topic. “Henry Whicker” I typed out under “The Terrorists.” Then, reconsidering, I put a line between them and changed it to “The Tragedy of Henry Whicker.”

For all her idiosyncrasies, Christine was a human. She knew what it was like to care about someone, even if her someone was a legion of robots. Plus, everyone who cared about someone cared about stability, right? Continuing down this path means more lost jobs, more families torn apart and more terrorism. “No Jobs = More Terrorism” I tapped.

She wouldn’t be able to drag me along on whatever nonsense conversation topic she liked this time. No more talk about Rand Paul or Paul Ryan or whatever weird old philosopher it was. Not if I came prepared. I wracked my brain for more arguments. Nothing. “The Tragedy of Henry Whicker” and “No Jobs = More Terrorism” were all I had. It was pitiful. Could I even argue these points effectively when Christine was working her misdirection? I felt the cold, familiar talons of despair clawing their way into my throat, but I forced them down. “No, Diane, you’re done with that.” I said to myself through gritted teeth.

“Are you upset, Diane? Do you need help?” asked the Caretaker.

“No, I’m fine,” I croaked, “go back to sleep.”

“Returning to Sleep Mode.”

I would never be able to convince Christine of anything if I couldn’t even keep my voice steady for more than two minutes at a time. I practiced the breathing techniques that the Caretaker had taught me. The best thing to do was not to think about it. Just do it. All anyone can expect of you is that you try your best. If that’s not enough to save humanity… No, no. You’re going to be fine. You’ll make it work. Christine will listen. She has to.

“Diane” said a voice unexpectedly close, making me jump, “your lunch is ready.”

I moved my computer to the side and Tony placed the plate. A BLT and macaroni and cheese. The Caretaker would not approve, but he was in sleep mode. I restrained myself from asking for a glass of gin. “Would you get me some water?”

“One moment, please.”

The macaroni and cheese was made with bright orange cheddar this time. I’d censured Tony when he tried to make me white macaroni and cheese. It just wasn’t right! There are two kinds of cheese, cheddar and mozarella, and cheddar is orange! I had to admit that his homemade version was still better than from the box. It seemed strange to call things Tony made “homemade” but it tasted like homemade and it was made in the home, so it counted by any metric that seemed fair. The bacon was cooked to perfection, and coupled with the tomato the mayonnaise was just exactly the right amount to be divine. As I had many times since I’d invited Tony to cook for me, I forgot all my troubles and floated weightless in culinary bliss.

As I descended gently back to Earth, I sat back and let William take the plates to the kitchen to wash them. I informed Tony that his lunch was superb, and he returned to a corner of the kitchen to go back into his own sleep mode. I sat and rested for another moment, then I took another deep breath, and found the number of Montana Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department.”

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.


  1. Just for the record, in Maine good cheddar is white. I have often wondered if they taste the same but, even if they do, the orange would put me off.

  2. I wonder what the attitude of the robots will be when they find out about the project she is working on during her recovery.

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